Fred de Sam Lazaro: Making Foreign Stories Less Foreign

BY Fred de Sam Lazaro  December 4, 2009 at 4:09 PM EST

This year marks two decades since my first overseas assignment, which actually came quite by accident. This Minnesotan was on his way to India for a winter vacation when my editor suggested that I bring back a story or two — “since you’re there.”

One of those pieces, introduced by Robin MacNeil, was about a “miracle-working eye hospital in India.” There, millions still suffer from reversible blindness that, in their poverty, they could never reverse. Our story told of Dr. G. Venkataswamy (Dr. V), an ophthalmologist who brought top-notch care and ruthless business efficiency to an enterprise dedicated to “eradicating needless blindness.”

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That experience fueled an appetite for character-driven narratives, which now form a substantial part of my reporting. They are stories about innovators like Dr. V–social entrepreneurs who blend hope and sometimes hubris in tackling the problems of poverty. Also, in ways I observe in classrooms at St John’s University in Minnesota, stories centered on people make foreign stories seem less foreign to an emerging generation of Americans eager to engage with the global issues of the day.


NewsHour reports have long been used in classrooms and the advent of the “multi-platform” PBS NewsHour is a timely enhancement of this teaching tool. Because while the Internet has spawned an explosion of news and information sources, it has also created a vast exchange of ignorance and misinformation, and the PBS NewsHour remains an oasis of responsible and respectful journalism that teachers can rely upon to connect their curricula to the world.
From a contributor’s perspective, this organization allows reporters to go both deep and wide. Earlier this year I was able to present a follow-up report on The Aravind Eye Care System, which–at one million patients annually–is now the world’s largest eye care provider, winner of the prestigious (and million dollar) Gates Award for Global Health.
You can watch the “new” Aravind story, the one from 1989, photo essays, reporter essays and a web-only report on Aravind’s close links to a California foundation. Any time, forever. That’s news fit to print, post, broadcast, blog, tweet and whatever verbs we’ll be using two decades from now…